August 5, 2008

Concentration or Automation: What do you think about when you draw?

Close-up of easel showing graphite drawing and scratchboard

A visitor to my booth last weekend asked a very interesting question: “When you draw, do you have to concentrate, or it is automatic for you?” I answered her then, but have continued to think about it since: Meta-thinking about thinking while drawing, I guess!

My answer to my visitor’s question:I concentrate, thinking harder at critical points, like sketching in all the features; not as hard during more repetitive tasks, like texturing and shading. But its not verbal thinking: “Now its time to draw the eyes: first draw a circle for the pupil, then the iris, now the eyelid…”

Rather, I think visually, following a line with my eyes while my hand tracks the same line on paper. I look for the shape of “empty space” between parts of a face. I compare the lightness and darkness of colors to match them with my shading pencil strokes. None of this happens with words, which often get in the way.

My thoughts since then:I easily get totally absorbed in doing art, to the point of not being aware someone is talking to me. Or that several hours has passed.When demonstrating drawing in front of a class, invariably my voice trails off partway through. It’s nearly impossible to maintain verbal communication while focusing [ahem] intently on producing art. Betty Edwards noted this phenomenon 25 years ago in her classic book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

I’ve had entire classes of elementary kids go totally silent 15 minutes into a art lesson while working intently on their art. I’ve never been a subscriber to the “noisy artroom” philosophy, for the very reason that it’s impossible to focus, but never found it necessary to enforce silence if students were motivated and engaged.

Yet I enjoy listening to audiobooks and podcasts while working on my art, just as I enjoy listening when I drive. But when it comes time to do something tricky, like parallel parking or driving through an unfamiliar city, I turn off the audio, so I can concentrate.

Similarly, if I’m several hours into a drawing and things are going well as I repetitively build up texture and shading, I can listen in on a conversation and even mumble a few words. But for a full-fledged conversation, I have to stop — I can’t pay close attention to someone talking and drawing at the same time. No wonder — what’s the most important thing we do to show someone we’re listening? Make eye contact! Can’t do that while drawing!What do you think about when drawing? Any chance of doing art on autopilot?

July 24, 2008

USAToday: Attention to lighting can make a huge difference in your photos

Jefferson Graham’s article “Attention to lighting can make a huge difference in your photos” yesterday in USAToday’s Tech section summarizes some great advice from Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Book. (There’s also a video on this page of Graham showing how to get the best lighting for your photos in the summer sun.)

After sifting through hundreds of photos people send me as references for pet and people portraits, I couldn’t say it better than the headline of this article: If you want to vastly improve your people or pet shots, pay attention to lighting. Don’t just “Point and Shoot”, in spite of what the camera manufacturers say, instead: “Think, Look, Point, and Shoot”!

Among my Top Five Tips for Taking Portrait-Worthy Photos, two involve lighting: Turn off the flash and avoid direct sunlight by taking your subject in bright shade.

The USAToday article includes these among Scott Kelby’s five concise tips for improving your photography by improving the lighting. As far as portraits go, I’m not sure I agree with his tip “Shoot into the sun” though. Even when using fill-flash, this can be pretty tricky to pull off. Try it, for sure — backlighting can be very dramatic — but hedge your bet by taking some other shots in bright shade, which is a sure thing.

I have several of Scott Kelby’s many books (does the guy ever sleep?) on photography, Photoshop, and Mac OS X and I highly recommend them for their practical approach, clear instruction, and great tips spiced with humor. The books that were the source of USAToday’s advice are The Digital Photography Book and it’s companion The Digital Photography Book, Volume 2. More of Scott Kelby’s books here.

I’m not a photographer, but I offer a free email mini-course “Taking Portrait-Worthy Pet Photos” that offers tips I’ve learned the hard way by taking my own pet photos and depending on my client’s photos to draw and paint pet and human portraits. Free free to sign up and learn along with me!

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